Unrelated case snags Martin Arroyo, DA's star witness against attorney Don Branson


By Sterling Greenwood, 4/25/03

Alleged knife victim Martin Arroyo whose crucial testimony could send attorney Donald Branson to prison for forty-eight years on attempted murder and assault charges, was himself sentenced to sixty days jail and six months probation yesterday in an unrelated Glenwood Springs case.

Arroyo, 37, who police say suffered a sliced throat by a knife-wielding Branson in a grisly incident which unfolded in a remote area outdoors near Old Snowmass on April 9, will face more sentencing still in Glenwood Springs, June 12, on a felony menacing conviction in yet another case. The sentencing yesterday was in connection with a guilty verdict returned by a Glenwood Springs jury April 3, on a domestic misdemeanor charge of "harassment -- insults/taunts/challenges." The jury returned not-guilty verdicts in five other charges against Arroyo, represented by attorney Kathy Goudy of Carbondale. Arroyo was acquitted of the following: third degree, assault; harassment --strike/shove/kick; menacing with a deadly weapon; menacing; menacing. Arroyo's sentencing for the misdemeanor yesterday stipulates that he attend domestic abuse classes, the alleged victim being a Newcastle woman. Arroyo had already served the sixty-day portion of that sentence.

Meanwhile, languishing in jail, where he says he has never spent time except as an attorney visiting clients, is Donald Elliott Branson, 54, who allegedly attempted to murder Martin Arroyo, the only apparent eye-witness in the case. Bail has been set at $100,000 for Branson, who practiced law in Texas and taught college philosophy in Ohio. He has entered not-guilty pleas to all charges. According to arrest warrant affidavits for Branson, Arroyo got out of Branson's grasp after Branson grabbed him from behind and cut his throat with a knife. Arroyo then hitch-hiked into Aspen to the home of Branson's ex-wife at 1230 Cooper Ave., where Branson also resided. A call was made to 911 for assistance. Arroyo was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, treated and released. Branson, who physically resembles an older version of a disheveled William Hurt when he played a lawyer in the movie, "Body Heat, said he and his ex-wife divorced in the mid-nineties. During an interview with me at the Pitkin County Jail, Branson said he was diagnosed with a usually fatal type of cancer nearly five years ago. He was treated with "shotgun radiation," he said, in San Antonio. His ex-wife in nearby Kerrville was very supportive, he said, and that when he was visiting Aspen two years ago and saw a "help-wanted," ad that would be ideal for her, he told her about it and that she moved here on her own thereafter, despite never before resided outside of Texas. Donald Branson said his ex-wife, Pamela Branson, met a man here who married her, deeded her a house and then left town.

A check by the Aspen Free Press indicates that in a duly recorded "special warranty deed," one Douglas Michalowski sold his house at 1230 Cooper Ave. for $10 and "other valuable consideration," to Pamela D. Branson, "his lawful wife," on Jan. 4, 2002, a conveyance "specifically made to be her separate property and not to be marital property."

According to Cindy Christensen at the Housing Office, the deed-restricted property could be listed for sale at a quarter of a million dollars. A further check with Pitkin County Sheriff's Dept. by the Aspen Free Press indicates there are three felony arrest warrants out for Douglas Michalowski including: 1. Failure to appear, preliminary hearing, Durango; 2. Failure to comply with a probation warrant, LaPlata County; 3. Active warrant, alleged larceny, Pitkin County. However, defense investiator David Olmsted told me Friday that DA Lawson Wills indicated to him that the Pitkin County warrant does not exist. So we have conflicting information now which will resolved soon.

Donald Branson told me during our interview that during December of 2001, before Pamela Branson's marriage to Douglas Michalowski, , that he had visited Aspen and given Douglas Michalowski legal counsel, free of charge, concerning Michalowski's entanglement in Durango. "I was not his primary attorney," Branson said.

After Michalowski left Aspen, apparently for parts not generally known, giving rise to speculation that the move was to avoid jail time, Donald Branson moved to Aspen himself last September and into the home at 1230 Cooper with Pamela Branson, though in separate quarters from her, he said.

In the arrest warrant affidavit for Donald Branson, Martin Arroyo says that he (Arroyo)to had been "dating," Pamela Branson for a period of time before Donald Branson allegedly attempted to slash his throat.

Donald Branson was arrested the same day of the alleged murder attempt -- which prompted a downtown "manhunt," -- in the parking lot of the Aspen Club, allegedly in possession of the knife used on Martin Arroyo's throat. Branson told me in one of several interviews I've conducted with him at the jail that he went regularly to the Aspen Club for cancer rehab and for both a broken scapula and a broken wrist suffered when a balcony railing he was leaning against gave way.

Branson told me he was articles editor of the Law Review during law school at the University of Texas, Austin, from which he was graduated. He said he had practiced medical malpractice law and civil rights and employment law before being diagnosed and treated for cancer, after which he moved to Ohio to take a position teaching college philosophy. He said he grew up in Bryan, Tx., where his father, who holds a Harvard PhD, had taught Agriculture Economics at Texas A&M. In our interviews, Don Branson would not comment on his case.



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